Ndindi Nyoro
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Party power play and the high stakes in Ruto's UDA party elections

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UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala, DP Rigathi Gachagua and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

More than 200 poll disputes from the United Democratic Alliance grassroots elections and an order for a repeat vote in 538 centres have ex-posed an ongoing power struggle triggered by a vicious scramble for influential positions in the party.

Big shots in President William Ruto’s party are pulling strings behind the scenes to install their loyalists in a scheme aimed at boosting their chances of being elected to top national positions during the National Delegates Congress.

County governors, senators and Members of Parliament (MPs) are also squaring it out to occupy the party’s most powerful positions within their jurisdictions in a contest that could trigger a bitter fall-out. The Weekly Review has also established the existence of boardroom wars between Secretary-General Cleophas Malala and National Elections Board chairperson Anthony Mwaura over the running of the elections.

Mr Mwaura was brought in by President Ruto after the party failed to conduct the exercise last December. The board has been against Mr Malala’s involvement in the polls following complaints of interference. But Mr Malala says the board is under the party’s National Executive Council (NEC), where he sits.

A dispute filed by Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo before the party’s Electoral and Nomination

Dispute Resolution Committee (ENDRC) highlights a list of more than 200 from the five counties of Nairobi, Narok, West Pokot, Busia and Homa Bay, where the first phase of the elections was held on April 26. Mr Tongoyo is running for the Narok chairmanship against Governor Patrick Ntutu.

James Chege (left) a polling clerk at James Gichuru Primary School in Dandora confirms the details of Stephen Maina before he casts his vote during the United Democratic Alliance polls on April 26, 2024. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

In his submission before the Joy Mdivo-led team, Mr Tongoyo sought to have the poll repeated in the entire county over claims that it was influenced in favour of Mr Ntutu. The MP claimed that in some polling centres, elections did not take place but results were declared in the online portal.

“The complainant states that he is an aspirant for the UDA Party Chairperson Narok County position and that the grassroots election directly impacts the eventual election of ward, Constituency and County Elections,” states the dispute committee.

The MP claimed before the dispute team that non-party members were allowed to vote in the election. He further alleged that UDA National Elections Board (NEB) chaired by Anthony Mwaura used Narok County Government staff – officials affiliated to the Governor – to conduct the elections.

“It is his prayer, therefore, that the Grassroots Election conducted in Narok County on 26 April be nullified and that the Respondent (UDA NEB) be directed to conduct fresh elections in Narok County.

In the alternative, the elections be nullified in polling centres listed in paragraphs 16,17,18 and 20 and that a fresh be conducted,” it states.

Although the case was dis- missed for lack of evidence to back the allegations, it points to the emotive nature of contested party elections. UDA has since ordered a repeat poll in centres where the exercise was marred with hitches. In Busia, the elections will be repeated in 25 centres of the 536 while in West Pokot the polls will take place in 385 centres of the 802 in the county. In Nairobi, a repeat election will be conducted in 50 centres out of 378 while in Narok, there will be a repeat in 70 centres out of 595.

Party members cast their votes to elect a total of 20 officials in each centre. They include three representatives of religious groups, traders (fours), professionals (three), youth (four), Special Interest Groups (One),farmers (three) as well as two party members – a woman and a man. The power struggle in the party is expected to get more vicious in the next three phases of the exercise, especially in UDA strongholds of Rift Valley and Mt Kenya. Apart from Nairobi where Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has kicked up a storm by planting his loyalists to take over the leadership of the party, the second in command is also keen to have his people in key party positions in the restive Mt Kenya, where he’s battling to succeed former President Uhuru Kenyatta as the region’s kingpin.

Prof David Monda,a political analyst, notes that grassroots elections are always very divisive because they exacerbate factions within a party. He observes that party polls lead to realignments of political players and may occasion defections by poll losers.

“With that in mind, DP Gachagua has taken aim at Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja, who has gathered the political might to vie for the Nairobi County Chairperson position. I think we will see massive fault lines develop in the party as the DP pushes his preferred candidates for various positions,” says Prof Monda, who teaches at the City University of New York.

“Looking forward to the second and third rounds of voting for UDA in June and August respectively, I anticipate the technical glitches, violence and delayed opening of poll stations to be persistent in these elections also. This will create more problems around the integrity of the final vote. It could lead to legal cases and/or mass defections to other parties from losers edged out of coveted seats.”

Cleophas Malala

UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala interacts with party supporters at the Bomas of Kenya on October 13, 2023. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

While addressing UDA National Governing Council (NGC) delegates last year, Dr Ruto confessed that he was aware that the exercise has a potential of triggering an implosion. But he noted that having it early enough would grant the party enough time to deal with the aftermath. “It is better to have them (party elections) now than close to the election so that if it gets messy, we can deal with the consequences,” President Ruto said.

Winning some of the highly contested seats is perceived as an endorsement for the party ticket for the 2027 General Election, making the exercise politically emotive and with the potential of triggering a bitter fallout. At the heart of the scramble for top party positions is Mr Gachagua’s ambitions to succeed Dr Ruto in the party as well as to secure positions of influence for his close allies.

He would want his people in the party’s key decision-making organs for purposes of taking over when President Ruto’s term expires. This would help him avoid a scenario of being kicked out of the outfit as it happened to Dr Ruto following his fallout with the retired President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Some of these interests can only be achieved by cutting down to size his political enemies, especially in Mt Kenya. Mr Gachagua and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro are fighting for the control of Mt Kenya politics. Political analyst Macharia Munene says the elections offer a platform for the squabbling camps to secure their future in the party. He says a win for either camp would affirm their influence in their respective regions.

Supremacy battle

“Whichever camp loses will have to go back to the drawing board. But even for those whose loyalists will win, they will have to continue consolidating their support bases because the party elections cannot be a guarantee for 2027 polls,” said Prof Macharia.

“Nyoro is a good politician but I don’t think he is in a supremacy battle with Gachagua. Mt Kenya people do not believe in kingpins. Gachagua’s fight with Sakaja in Nairobi is a normal internal fight,” he explains.

Mr Sakaja recently said that he is not scared by reports that Mr Gachagua is backing his opponent – Embakasi North MP James Gakuya – saying it is the registered party members who will decide who becomes party officials in the county. “It is not only Gakuya who is also running for the branch chair. I don’t want to believe that he is being assisted by another politician because I know the process will be credible. The President has said it would be free and fair. The party members will make the decision at the ballot so that we strengthen the party in Nairobi,” said Mr Sakaja.

Mr Gakuya recently while on a vernacular radio station said that he is running for the position so as to fight “suppression of Mt Kenya people in the capital city.” Mr Mwaura explained that the 20 polling centres officials elected by the party members plus elected and nominated MCAs will form the ward Congress. The congress will proceed to elect 20 ward officials from amongst themselves.

Further, the 20 ward officials from each ward in a constituency, plus elected and nominated MPs will form the Constituency Congress. The congress will elect 20 officials from amongst themselves.

The 20 elected officials plus governors, deputy governors, senators and Woman Reps will congregate and form the County Congress. The team will elect 20 county officials.

All county officials (20) and seven officials (7) at the constituency – which include the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson, Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Treasurer, Organising Secretary and a

Youth Rep – and all the elected and nominated leaders will constitute the National Delegate Congress which will elect the National officials.